Freedom of speech is a constitutional right that is increasingly being threatened on college campuses nationwide. Once viewed as open forums, colleges are no longer safe platforms for students to engage in discussions and debates about their opinions and ideas.
In September, an opinion piece published by The Wesleyan Argus criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement almost cost the Wesleyan University newspaper its funding. Bryan Stascavage, the author of the article, was slammed by readers for his conservative views, which differed greatly from the majority of his peers at the largely liberal college.
Stascavage’s article, which questioned the legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement, was largely viewed as racist. He later opened up about the controversy on The College Fix where he related the hatred he received to cultural terraforming, the action of trying to conform people to accepting and abiding by a certain point of view.
“[Cultural terraforming] poisons the free exchange of ideas and destroys the mission of liberal arts colleges,” Stascavage wrote.
The purpose of higher education is to expand students’ worldview and encourage critical thinking. When encountering different opinions and ideas, students should not attempt to retaliate but instead engage in meaningful, thought-provoking discussions while remaining respectful of every party.
College is a place of diversity where students hail from different backgrounds and cultures. It is an excellent place to exchange ideas and one should not cower from this opportunity to learn and discuss.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what students have been doing. There have been several occasions where student body dissent has caused schools to rescind commencement invitations to speakers such as last year’s Rutgers University incident where former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s commencement speaking engagement was axed following student and faculty protests.
In a speech in Des Moines in September, President Obama expressed his disagreement with such behavior.
“Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them,” he said, “but you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’”
Opportunities for college students to freely express themselves are becoming scarce as “social justice warriors” fervently advocate for their causes and write off all opposition. Even if the majority agree on an issue, the minority that disagrees should be granted its own voice to justify and rationalize its view. Instead, minorities do not have the chance to safely express themselves, which creates an unhealthy, uniform environment on campus.
In the event of an unpopular opinion, students’ first instincts should not be to attack the holder of that opinion but to instead be open-minded and understand the rationale behind it.
“The solution to speech that offends should always be more speech, not less,” wrote Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post.
As unpopular as some opinions may be, they should still be heard and discussed. Shutting down a person’s view not only discourages them but also breeds a society of “sheeple” who suppress their own individuality to hop on the ideological bandwagon. When this occurs, innovation and creativity comes to a halt and prevents society from progressing forward.
Being open to different perspectives can also help a student grow as a member of society. College is like Real World Lite: it immerses students in a community that reflects the global landscape on a smaller scale. Just like the real world, college campuses are filled with a vast diversity of people who come from different backgrounds who hold differing beliefs. Being accepting of their college’s diversity prepares students for the even greater diversity that they will encounter post-college.
Of course, there are limits to free speech that should still be set in place to make college conducive to learning. While students should be free to share their own views, hate speech and threats should not be tolerated at any cost as these acts can potentially cause violence and death.
For the most part, however, students’ right to freedom of speech should not be infringed—especially on campus grounds.
All voices should be represented and heard on campus grounds, and students’ right to free speech should not be stifled. Students should be entitled to learning about all sides of the argument before coming to a conclusion about their own opinions on a topic. Only when they do so can they make informed and mature choices that will carry them through college and beyond.